I first played through Detective Grimoire several months ago and wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. While it’s an incredibly endearing game full of entertaining—though undeniably cartoonish—characters, it also has a constant tendency to turn everything into a minigame, as well as a general lack of difficulty that makes it less magical than it’d probably be otherwise. After playing through it again, though, I was won over by its abundant charm. It may not hit all of the marks or appeal to those who prefer their adventure games to have a more punishing difficulty, but it’s a one of a kind experience in a sea of games that are content to be yet another entry in their respective genres, and that counts for something.
“Detective is my first name”
You play as Detective Grimoire, whose real name is never actually revealed; for all anyone knows, his first name really is “Detective,” as he quips early in the game. Anyway, he’s working with the police to investigate a murder that occurred in a tourist attraction known as Boggy’s Bog, a swamp area that’s thought to be the domain of an elusive creature known as Boggy. Not only is Boggy a Loch Ness-type of creature whose very existence is uncertain, but he’s also your prime murder suspect when you show up to the crime scene. Naturally, things get a bit more uncertain as you begin investigating the 7 other suspects.
One thing that should be mentioned up front is that while you end up solving the crime of the murder, a larger conspiracy opens up that you won’t have the chance to explore until Detective Grimoire 2 (if the “to be continued” screen at the end is any indication, at least). I’ve never been a big fan of cliffhangers, honestly, and while I felt that the immediate story was tied up rather nicely, having everything lead up to a “to be continued” screen sours the ending somewhat.
The good and bad of characters
I really like the characters—not only do they all have voice acting that’s remarkably solid (especially for a mobile game), but they’re remarkably entertaining despite being cartoonish stereotypes. You have the full-of-himself movie director, the bored merchandise girl, the detail-obsessed Boggy fan, and several others who are equally outlandish. However, one of the game’s major missteps involves a little redheaded girl who pops up out of nowhere to give you clues. She provides you with an item that you can’t progress without, can seemingly disappear at will, and her and Grimoire already know each other despite that relationship never being explained. Is she a ghost? Some kind of Fight Club-esque multiple personality? Is she the personification of Grimoire’s hat? There’s really no way to say who she is, exactly, and while the mystery of it all is intriguing, she’s far too convenient and helpful a character to leave unexplained.
These arrows are made for walking
Detective Grimoire consists of 14 static area screens that you can investigate for clues, and many of these screens are home to a suspect for you to question. Actually moving from area to area is a bit strange in that you have to press an icon on the bottom-right of the screen for the movement arrows to show up, but while this is a bit of a hassle at first, you’re soon able to fast-travel to any screen by opening your map and tapping on your destination. This ends up being quite a bit more convenient than most adventure games bother to be.
There are many methods you use to investigate, and the first is the simplest: tapping on everything. Not only will Grimoire comment on much of what you tap on (some of which is even relevant to your investigation), but you’ll often discover hidden clues near bubbling water and suspicious grassy areas. Clicking on everything and everyone is the key to progressing, basically, and the lighthearted dialogue ensures that doing so is less tedious than it probably sounds.
The second way you investigate is by asking all of your suspects about a few different topics. You start the game with two topics, but two more questions open up as you investigate, leading to an end total of four things you can ask suspects about. Additionally, you can show any of your found clues to any suspect, or even ask them about other suspects. However, many of the things you can ask them about lead to colorful, character-specific variations of “I don’t know.” I think I noticed something like three different responses that cycle for each character. Many of your suspects do have relevant things to say when provided with the right evidence, though, and those things often unlock “challenges.”
Challenges are basically where you confront a suspect about something suspicious you’ve discovered pertaining to them and have to select the right dialogue to progress the conversation. There are three different dialogue options at a time for you to choose from, and while it’s usually obvious which is the correct response, failing only sends you back to try the challenge again without penalty.
There’s also the “stupid sentence constructor”!
The last method of investigation open to you occurs automatically when you’ve discovered enough data to form a conclusion about something. I didn’t count the number of times this opens up to you, but I’d guess that you’re able to form conclusions something like 6-8 times over the course of the story. How this works is that several elements you’ve learned about are displayed on the top half of the screen, with a sentence connector like “is proof that” and an end like “is the killer.” You have to cycle through the evidence and the wording to form a relevant conclusion based on the things you’ve learned. If that sounds complicated, check the screenshots at the end of the review—the third screenshot from the left in the top row is of the “conclusion” screen and it should be self-explanatory.
Of course, you don’t have to create meaningful sentences. You’re always free to dawdle, creating strings of words that have no meaning whatsoever and incessantly giggling with the same kind of joy as that time you made a word-to-text program say dirty things. Everyone’s done this at some point. Naturally, the preexisting elements you’re working with limit the number of things you’re able to have the good detective say, but it’s nevertheless the same kind of immature fun to have him babble about stupidity like his hat being the murderer.
Minigames, minigames, and minigames
While the word “minigame” implies a certain amount of challenge that simply isn’t present in Grimoire’s gameplay, you’ll often be forced into minigame-ish interactive sequences. Whether it’s opening a lock by dragging one end of a chain through a simplistic maze or just brushing aside plants to find the clue hidden beneath, these constant distractions don’t really serve any purpose but to add a little extra gameplay to the still-incredibly-short game. I found them annoying and unnecessary, and while this wasn’t enough to torpedo my overall enjoyment of the game, a little more restraint would have been appreciated.
I’m almost universally against games that don’t let you save your progress manually, but Grimoire has autosaves that catch everything you do. Not once did I exit the game and have to replay a section, so while the lack of control doesn’t allow you to go back and revisit specific parts of the game, I can’t bring myself to say anything bad about the save situation.
It’s short, though
The first time I played through it, Detective Grimoire lasted me something like 3-4 hours. Mind you, that’s listening to the characters speak instead of skipping through the dialogue. The second time I played through the game, I skipped through everything I could and managed to get through the game in what felt like 45 minutes. We’re talking about a very short game, sadly, and while I felt that it was 100% worth the 4-dollar price tag for the mobile version, the 7-dollar PC version is probably a bit too costly for how little gameplay you get out of it.
Clean art and black bars
The graphics in this game are cel-shaded, but most characters only have a few different cels. For example, Lady Weybridge’s skin is all white, as is the detective’s. Only in rare cases do you see shadows on characters, and this gives the art a very “clean” look, especially when contrasted with the more detailed backgrounds. It’s all very pleasant. In fact, the only negative thing I could possible point out graphics-wise would be the infrequent cutscenes, which are obviously pre-rendered and compressed. They also seem to be resized from a lower resolution than my Kindle Fire’s native resolution of 1280×800, which makes them less visually appealing than the rest of the game. However, this is a small quibble in the grand scheme of things, and cutscenes are, again, incredibly rare.
The music is also top-class
I’m not a fan of game soundtracks that use orchestral-type music to create a sense of emotion and/or dread, but Grimoire uses horns, strings, woodwinds, and bells to create a unique sense of mystery and adventure that’s completely different from what you’ll hear in other games. Every track fits the game perfectly and begs to be listened to through headphones (which are recommended by the game), so I have absolutely nothing negative to say about the soundtrack.
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